February 28, 2011

Road to recovery

Teens from juvenile facility warn 5th-graders about the dangers of drugs

By Lindsey Ziliak

— With shackles connecting them at their ankles, the four teenage boys in yellow jumpsuits  walked into the Columbia Elementary School gym

The room full of fifth-graders fell silent

“My dad was in and out of jail when I was growing up. ... I never thought I’d end up like him,” said Thomas.

The teen from Madison and three other boys — who were only identified by their first names — spoke about the dangers of drug use as part of the Students Talking About Recovery program at Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility. The program utilizes students from the CLIFF program to tell about what led to their incarceration and other aspects of their past that caused harm to their families and themselves.

Thomas told the children he was incarcerated after he and a group of his friends got drunk one night and damaged equipment and tools at a construction site.

“It changes you. When you’re drunk, you don’t think clearly. When you’re high, you don’t think clearly,” he said.

Donald, who is from LaPorte, said his drug use started to escalate when he took pills before a court appearance.

“I went into court extremely high, and they let me go. I was amazed. I thought that meant it was OK,” he said.

He then started to use more dangerous drugs and began stealing from his family. Eventually, he was arrested for burglary.

Thomas said he used his parents as an excuse to use drugs.

“For me, it was real hard to see my parents use. They tried to hide it from me, but drugs are powerful,” he said. “If I could go back, I would have confronted my parents about using, and I definitely wouldn’t have used.”

Mark Harmon, the facility’s program director, asked the pupils to raise their hands if they knew someone who, like the four teens, had abused drugs.

A large number of students waved their arms in the air.

“That amazed me,” Harmon said.

Columbia principal Elizabeth Loposser thought the teens did an excellent job getting their message across. She hoped the students were listening.

“I hope they remember this. I hope they can hear the boys’ voices and see their faces when they’re on the brink of making a bad decision,” Loposser said.

Harmon hopes the boys spread the message about the importance of staying in school as well.

A number of the teens said they stopped attending classes before they were arrested and are having a hard time catching up now.

“If I could, I would go back and do school right. Now I’m struggling. It’s harder to get jobs,” Phillip said.

Phillip has dreams of going to school for culinary arts. He wants to spend his life cooking, he said. He also wants to be more involved in his niece’s life.

“I missed her birth and her birthdays,” he said. “I wrote her a birthday card. I know she can’t read it yet, but I told her I hope she keeps it forever. I promised her I wouldn’t miss out on anymore of her stuff.”

Loposser said this was the first time in many years that the school invited boys from the juvenile facility to speak, but she hopes to continue it in the future.

“For our kids to have a first-hand account of what drugs can do, to have that discussion with the boys is invaluable,” she said.

• Lindsey Ziliak is a staff writer at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or